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Cubanismo: Mardi Gras Mambo

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Cubanismo mingles New Orleans brass bands with its Caribbean heritage. The links between Afro-Cubans and black Crescent City culture goes back to colonial times, but musically it wasn’t until the turn of the last century that they met when colored municipal bands from Havana played in New Orleans and vice versa. It was these ensembles that brought habanero beats to the mix, which made up the Spanish tinge that Jelly Roll Morton considered so crucial to jazz feeling.

Headed by trumpeter Jesus Alemany, this all-star group featuring legendary sonero (singer) Rolo Martinez spent 10 days in New Orleans rekindling that spirit by connecting with an equally distinguished cast of jazz and rhythm & blues stalwarts, featuring John Boutte and the Yockamo All-Stars. It’s a roller coaster of transcultural ideas in old and new bottles, like the Ernie K. Doe hit “Mother-in-Law” that begins as a boogaloo but slips into a straight-ahead cha-cha-cha before spinning back. It’s the twists, turns and infectious beats that keep the album grooving.

“Shallow Water Suite” is a tribute to the Mardi Gras Indians with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison on the sanctified part and Alemany and crew smoking on a full-blown descarga (jam session) after a chorus of “Iko Iko.” Resident New Orleans rapper Cashus Clay vibes on “Rampart Street Rumba;” “Marie Laveaux” pays tribute to the renowned voodoo queen and the “Mardi Gras Mambo” sizzles with Professor Longhair-like funk.

With strong vibrant flavors from the same musical stock, this new millennium gumbo is a tasty delight.